So much for Gerrit Cole easing into things.
Before the Yankees hold their initial spring training 2.0 workout Saturday at Yankee Stadium, the staff ace is almost pushing speed guns into triple digits.
“He is pretty close to game speed. I think it was 95 to 99 [mph], so we are in a game-ready velocity,’’ first-year pitching coach Matt Blake said on Zoom about the Yankees’ $324 million investment who faced Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and Luke Voit at the Stadium on Thursday. “Now it is kind of fine-tuning it and sustaining over longer pitch counts. I think he feels good about where he is, and obviously he is always a critic of himself, kind of tightening things up whether it is a certain pitch to a certain location. Obviously we faced some hitters and get more feedback in that way.’’
When the coronavirus shut down MLB on March 12, Cole traveled to his home north of New York City and immediately began a throwing program in anticipation of a reboot.
“Trying to keep the pilot light on and being as ready as we can when we are called back to being able to play,” Cole told The Post on April 2.
Judging by the speed-gun readings Thursday, that pilot light didn’t need 48,000 customers in Yankee Stadium to be stoked.
“He looked good [Thursday]. He is moving right along in his progression. We actually went three-ups today and kind of set the bar for kind of what we are going to build on, targeting three weeks out and getting ready for the regular season,’’ Blake said of Cole, who is the prohibitive favorite to start against the Nationals in Washington on July 23 if the COVID-19 pandemic allows MLB to play. “The nice thing is that it doesn’t take fans in the stands to get him amped so we are good there.’’
It is Hal Steinbrenner’s hope that eventually Cole will work in front of customers. However, that isn’t likely to happen early in the 60-game schedule.
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Adam Ottavino has worked out with Cole since March and joined him Thursday with a two-inning stint. Masahiro Tanaka played catch at the Stadium and Blake anticipates the right-hander “going live’’ Saturday.
A long-standing belief is that a normal spring training is six weeks long so pitchers can ease into the regular season without rushing. Now that is no longer in play, which raises health concerns for a very valuable unit. And a group that worked out on its own for three-plus months.
“I think the biggest thing with taking inventory of all these guys as we were going along and making sure we knew the pulse of how they were training and how consistent it was being so we weren’t asking something of them that they hadn’t been doing over the last 30 days or two weeks coming into camp,” said Blake.
He added the Yankees attempted to hold their pitchers to a 50-60-pitch window during the hiatus, not comfortable with them pushing their arms on their own. But Blake said he hopes to have the starters ready to throw four-six innings entering the regular season.
Even with James Paxton not being ready for the March 26 opener, the Yankees didn’t appear to be looking at using relievers to start games as they did with Chad Green a year ago. That might change with a condensed spring training and only 60 games even if all five starters are healthy.
“There are different routes we can go, obviously an opener or a bullpen day,’’ said Blake, who explained the Yankees could carry 15-18 pitchers at the start of the season when rosters increase to 30 players for the first two weeks. “I do think all those things are on the table with a template of a five-day starting rotation and then kind of navigating from there.’’
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